Seven takeaways from Tuesday: McCollum's arrival, Kyser's block party
MIES (Switzerland) - After the first three games of the season on Monday, Tuesday brought another six of them all over Europe, warming us up for an even busier Wednesday. The Basketball Champions League is back in all of its beauty, as expected.
Here to help you cruise along is the first rendition of our seven takeaways. Seven, because this is Season Seven, and also because everything in the world is in sevens, including the word Tuesday, which has seven letters.
#1 No Name Boys loving Big Name Boys
S.L. Benfica are the newcomers to the BCL. For the first time ever, we have a Portuguese team in the Regular Season, and one would assume they could lack experience on a big stage like this one. One would be wrong.
Because even though they are new to this League, they have players who have seen this kind of environment in their lives. And if we knew one thing about guys like Aaron Broussard, Ivan Almeida or Toney Douglas, it's that you have to be extra careful with the ball when you're around them. VEF Riga weren't.
Benfica had 15 steals on their BCL debut, storming to an 89-76 win over the Latvian champs, on the road, quite literally stealing the show. The big names were amazing, five players in double figures, led by Toney Douglas' 17 points and 7 assists.
"We don't really care who's the highest scorer on the team. We just wanna win. Whatever it takes to win, it doesn't matter, we all have one goal, and I learned in Europe, when you win everything goes good. We're a veteran team, we have older guys, we have younger guys, and a couple of guys 26, 27. But we are all hungry," Douglas said.
Big names coming up big for a club whose supporters are named No Name Boys. And they will love this unit, no doubt about it.
#2 Errick McCollum is here
Show of hands, who's surprised that Errick McCollum and Pinar Karsiyaka are a perfect fit for each other? Yep, they are perfect.
Coach Ufuk Sarica decided he's going to let Jaylon Brown start and get the early offense, and the 17 points on the night sound like coach did the right thing. What's more important, Sarica got an improvement once he had his second unit in.
That's because Errick McCollum did what he does best, torching AEK with 29 points off the bench, done on 7-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-6 from deep, including the game-clinching dagger that made his brother extremely happy overseas.
View this post on Instagram
Karsiyaka won the game 91-88, with a massive double-double by Angel Delgado (17pts, 12reb), and huge contribution from Mindaugas Kuzminskas (13pts, 5reb, 5ast), too. Message sent.
#3 AEK will be fine
Speaking of that game, there is no major concern if you're an AEK fan. The 2018 champs and 2020 Finalists looked rock solid throughout the game, and Tim Frazier's 16 points and 9 assists in his first European game are a good sign, for sure.
Akil Mitchell had 19 points and 9 boards, Janis Strelnieks finished with 15 points and 6 assists off the bench, Kenny Williams scored 17, with two more guys in double figures. The offense will be there on any given night with their individual talents, now it's time for coach Ilias Kantzouris to find the defense to match it.
"We discussed it with the guys before the game, if we wanted to come here and create an opportunity to face such a talented team as Karsiyaka, we needed to play good defense. Not for short periods, as we did, but for the entire game. If we want to be the team that we want to be, the game needs to start and finish from our defense," coach acknowledged it.
However, compared to their last BCL adventure, AEK looked like a positive team once again.
#4 Kyser chief
Speaking of defense, Surne Bilbao are right on the money. The returnees to the BCL put on one of the most impressive defensive halves ever, holding the perennial Czech champs ERA Nymburk to just 21 points in the second half, getting a 68-54 win on the road. It was the first time in 83 BCL games that Nymburk were held to less than 60 points.
Ludvig Hakanson led the offense with 16 points, Michale Kyser powered the defense with 5 blocks. He is the best blocker in the BCL since he first joined the competition in VEF's jersey in 2020-21, and with his 51 career blocks, he's now fourth on the all-time shots blocked list in the Basketball Champions League.
What's most impressive about his blocks is that Ky doesn't care which way the opponents are trying to test him. He blocked them in 1v1 matchup on the low block, as the rotating help defender, or even in a mismatch in transition, not allowing faster guards to go around him.
TaShawn Thomas has 67 blocks, Damian Kulig 55, Dejan Kravic 54. Second place is within reach, maybe the all-time lead, too, if Surne Bilbao go deep this time around.
#5 New coach, same old MHP RIESEN
Well, technically, the coach isn't completely new, since Josh King spent three years as an assistant to John Patrick. But since coach Patrick was around for so long, there were definitely a lot of people wondering what the transition would look like for last season's third placed team.
It went exactly as coaches Patrick and King imagined. MHP RIESEN tormented Bakken Bears in a 99-58 win, doing the trademark Ludwigsburg stuff: 28-10 in points from turnovers; 13-2 in fast break points; 23-4 in second chance points; 13 steals on Bakken's 20 turnovers, and a wild celebration on a random steal at +15 in the third quarter.
Because plays like those just take the air out of you, if you're on the other side. The lead ballooned to 41 afterwards, marking this as MHP RIESEN's second largest BCL win ever. They defeated Szolnoki Olay by 43 back in 2016.
#6 Thad McFabulous
Time flies, teams change, new stars arrive, young guns grow up, and Thad McFadden keeps hitting the big shots with everything on the line. The League is in balance.
The two-time champion and the 2020 Final Eight MVP was back to his usual business, hitting the biggest shot of the day to win the game for UCAM Murcia, 75-72 the final score. Tofas Bursa got one back straight away through Khyri Thomas, and even had a chance to win it, but Rob Gray's pull-up three in transition bounced out.
To make the defeat an even tougher pill to swallow, Tofas were excellent in defending the three-point shot all game long, allowing Murcia just 5-of-24 shooting from deep. But that fifth one was just a good enough look for McFadden to win the game.
Coach Sito Alonso deserves a lot of credit, too. Rob Gray and Tyler Ennis had 10 each at the half, finished with 12 and 10, respectively, after Alonso's half time talk with his men in the locker room.
#7 BCL recruiting
Limoges CSP and BAXI Manresa were in the first Game of the Week this season. To win the GOTW in the BCL, you have to have enough BCL knowledge on how it's done, which is why it's helpful to get last season's top scorer and the Best Young Player on your team.
Jerrick Harding led the BCL in scoring with 20.8 points per game last season. Jerrick Harding moved from ERA Nymburk to BAXI Manresa over the summer. Jerrick Harding led the scoring with 16 points in Manresa's first win.
Giordano Bortolani was the Best Young Player in the BCL last season. Giordano Bortolani moved from Nutribullet Treviso to BAXI Manresa over the summer. Giordano Bortolani iced the game from the line like a veteran, setting the final score at 76-73 in France, ending the game with 13 points in 15 minutes.
Coach Pedro Martinez had to change most of his roster compared to last season's run to the Finals. Winning on the road in a historical arena such as the one in Limoges in the first game of this season keeps the dream alive for Manresa's fans, despite all the changes.